The Nintendo 64 launched in 1996 and is one of the most recognizable video game consoles in history. Time named it “machine of the year” when it was released, and IGN considered it the 9th-greatest console of all time. This isn’t too much of a surprise. The N64 released just as video games were shifting from a niche hobby associated mostly with children, to a powerful art form with a huge audience. The increasing popularity and power of consoles opened up larger games to audiences outside of the PC realm with the added comfort of a controller… even if the N64’s controller was a little weird (I don’t have three hands, Nintendo, stop it).
Nevertheless: the N64 took the lessons of the Super Nintendo and expanded on them, and many of the games on the N64 are still considered among the greatest to grace the medium. And it’s those games that we’d like to talk about, today.
See, after years of begging from fans (I was begging, I don’t know about the rest of you), Nintendo has finally began to port N64 games onto the Nintendo Switch. There have been problems, mind you, and some are mad about the subscription format. But the release of these games on the Switch is huge.
A few games, in particular, stand out as incredibly important additions to the console. For some, it’s because of the business dealings they hint at. For others, it’s because of their historical significance. Here, we’re going to cover a few notable titles, and why they’re such an important addition to the Switch. Starting with…
Banjo-Kazooie was an adventure game developed by Rare and released on the N64 in 1998, to critical acclaim. It’s received several awards and was a huge success. In many ways, the game took the 3D adventure format that people loved in Mario 64 and improved on it. I’d argue it was a superior game in every way.
In many ways, Banjo-Kazooie was emblematic of the strong relationship Nintendo had with then-partner Rare. In fact, many of the most notable games on the N64 came from Rare: Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark, Jet Force Gemini, and Goldeneye.
But, it wasn’t to last. Rare was bought by Microsoft in 2002 and, since then, many of its games have been in a rights nightmare. As a result, some of those titles—among the best on the N64—haven’t been available on a Nintendo console since their original release.
In fact… Banjo-Kazooie’s release on the Switch is the first time it’s been available on a Nintendo console since the N64.
This return, after so long, may hint at a settling of the licensing battles between Rare, Microsoft, and Nintendo. After all—they’ve held out for so long. Why now? The inclusion of Banjo-Kazooie on the Switch has opened the door for other titles, including those listed above. That makes it one of the most important games available in this initial package.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time… and Majora’s Mask
You knew that Ocarina would be on this list.
The fact is, it’s still the highest-rated game of all-time on Metacritic. It brought The Legend of Zelda into the 3D world and proved what these consoles were capable of. It set a new standard for gaming on just about every level and, for many, was the game that got them into video games. Canonically, it also marks the divide between the Zelda timelines (a complex topic I won’t delve into, here). It’s no surprise it got ported, but its historical significance makes it a necessary addition to this list.
But Majora’s Mask offers a more interesting conversation. While every Zelda game is unique, Majora is still a little out there. The mask system offered a complexity rarely seen, the 3-day-cycle was a wildly innovative thing to risk after such a landmark title as Ocarina, and the way these interacted with such a living world may be part of the reason it’s considered one of the best games made.
It’s worth mentioning because the innovative details, neat tools, and dark tone of Majora could expose a lot of gamers who started with Breath of the Wild to a side of the franchise they didn’t know about. It took a lot of risks that paid off. If the port is well received, we could hope to see some functions (or risk-taking) return in a later Zelda title.
Besides… the inclusion of both these games means that only two 3D Zelda titles are yet to be released on Switch: Wind Waker and Twilight Princess.
Perhaps the most surprising entry on this list. Mario is a franchise well-known for branching out into a wide array of different takes. Tennis, soccer, Smash Bros… Mario’s done it all. But rarely are those spin-offs treated with the care that goes into a mainline Mario game.
Paper Mario was a huge exception. It took the world of Mario, changed the aesthetic drastically, and put the focus on story, characters, and exploration of the world. It gave players a unique twist on the turn based JRPG battle format that kept players engaged, and told a grand story that turned the Mario world from one with quaint aesthetic charm to something big and enticing. Somehow, it took the ridiculousness of Mario and made you emotionally invested. It let you disappear into that world.
But, since the Wii era, Paper Mario has changed. It’s shifted from its storytelling and JRPG roots, and the later titles just haven’t met the standards of the original or its sequel, the Thousand Year Door. By including the original Paper Mario on the Switch, new fans may get exposed to this charming game, and use it as a comparison point for the more modern titles. If it’s well received, there’s a chance we may see a Paper Mario game that goes back to its roots.
The End (And No Mario 64?)
Of the titles currently announced, these three represent some of the most interesting additions to the games available on the Switch. Not only because of how fun or historically significant they are, but because of the future they may portend.
As for why we didn’t discuss Mario 64? Well, put simply… because it’s already been playable on the Switch.